Directed by Brea Grant (12 Hour Shift) from a script by Rachel Koller Croft, this has a reel or so of set-up before it gets to the hothouse where the bulk of the film is set. In Nashville, hopeful country duo Jordan (Abby Quinn) and Leigh (Alexxis Lemire) are treated not exactly well by their manager Richie (Joshua Leonard) and horny superstar Caleb Crawford (Shiloh Fernandez) as an opportunity is offered then snatched away after both guys have got laid … but Jordan, the tomboyish writer, sees a way to capitalise on the mess by exploiting Caleb’s one-time connection to Harper Dutch (Katey Segal), who was herself half of a duo (The Dutchess Sisters) but has become reclusive since the death of her sister/partner Hope (Alon McKiveen).
Jordan and Leigh, aka Torn Hearts, turn up at Harper’s mansion, which is the c&w version of Norma Desmond’s memorabilia-and-cobwebs lair in Sunset Blvd (it doesn’t quite go for a Phantom of the Opry joke). They want to convince the diva to come out of retirement and record a song with Torn Hearts, and Harper isn’t interested until she perceives that the young women – spunky, creative writer and pretty, outgoing singer – are analogues of her own sister act, then sets out to test the pair to see if their relationship has the same fatal cracks. Once it gets to the mansion, Torn Hearts becomes theatrical and claustrophobic, playing the sort of games found in Sleuth, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Knife in the Water and many other intimate dramas of people getting under each other’s skins in order to make the characters perform emotional stripteases even as the backstory gets into murder mystery territory.
A corpse is added early – don’t worry, it’s no one you’ll miss for the rest of the film – and so the prospect of showbiz success gets bound up in the Very Bad Things genre of regular folk driven to extremes to attain their short-term goals. It offers a mix of guessable and left-field revelations, with the ebb and flow of power dynamics within a trio of volatile personalities affording many opportunities for campy, rhinestone-studded screaming matches and very bad behaviour. Sagal, Quinn and Lemire are perfectly-cast – you make assumptions about each of them straight off, then the script stretches the characters in unexpected dimensions – and the home stretch, which gets bloody, is satisfying Grand Ole Guignol.
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